Introducing Extreme E, The Motorsport That Wants To Save The Planet - IMBOLDN
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Extreme E is a new electric off-road racing series debuting its first season this year. The concept, message, and racing events that make up this championship series are ambitious (to say the least). You see, Extreme E is not just a new racing series featuring electric race cars; it’s a global expedition to spread awareness of climate change through the media of motorsport. The Extreme E series will be hosted across five different locations explicitly chosen to showcase the effects of climate change, and transportation will be done by sea using a former passenger-cargo ship. 

The Extreme E championship’s latest roster shows ten racing teams, each one featuring one male and one female co-driving teams to promote gender equity in motorsport – a first in the sport. The professional racing drivers involved are coming from all corners of motorsport to participate in this inaugural racing season. A diverse range of drivers competing against each other in identical race cars is a recipe primed to deliver fast-paced, wheel-to-wheel action in every race.

Photo courtesy of Extreme E

It seems Extreme E set out to create the most inclusive, green, racing series possible. We even reached out to professional off-road racing driver Christine GZ, one of the drivers set to compete in Extreme E. If that name sounds familiar, you may have read our feature on her from the summer of 2020. Extreme E sounded too good to be true to us, so we broke down every concept of this potential trend setting motorsport to provide a better understanding of what racing fans can expect when its first race debuts in April 2021. 

Origins of Extreme E

Extreme E was founded in 2018 by Alejandro Agag. A former politician turned businessman from Spain with a passion for motorsport. According to the Extreme E website, the origin of this racing series started over breakfast. Agag and professional racing driver and team owner, Gil de Ferran, asked “what if” they could show the damaging effects of climate change in the most remote places of the world through the lens of a globally recognized sport? 

Agag and Gil de Ferran, asked “what if” they could show the damaging effects of climate change in the most remote places of the world through the lens of a globally recognized sport? 

Dakar comes to mind when you think of Extreme E because it consists of off-road racing in a dynamic, remote part of the world. Unlike Dakar, however, Extreme E plans on hosting five racing events throughout 2021 in extreme environments that cover: the Arctic, Desert, Ocean, Amazon, and Glacier. The task of finding these locations fell on Extreme E’s Scientific Committee, who spent two years searching for parts of the world being most affected by climate change and could host an off-road race.

Photo courtesy of Extreme E

The final roster of locations includes Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Greenland, Brazil, and Patagonia. Each stage will host a Prix racing event while highlighting how climate change is directly affecting the area. This includes:

  • The desertification in Saudi Arabia
  • The rising sea level in Senegal
  • The melting ice caps in Greenland
  • Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil
  • Glaciers receding in Patagonia 

Beyond giving these regions a global spotlight, Extreme E plans on leaving each area on a positive note through legacy programs. According to Extreme E, these programs include efforts such as reforesting 100 hectares of the Amazon rainforest and planting one million mangroves in Senegal. The mission is not to merely spread awareness but take steps to do something about protecting our planet.  

Christine GZ and Extreme E’s High Voltage Roster of Racing Drivers 

As of February 2021, ten racing teams are set to compete in Extreme E, and the magnitude of Extreme E’s ambition has attracted a premier class of professional racing drivers. Among them is seven-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton who is fielding his own Extreme E team with drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez. Fellow Formula One World Champions Nico Roseberg and Jenson Button are also set to compete as drivers. The rules require co-driving teams consisting of one male and one female. As of February, this is the current roster of drivers and race teams: 

  • Mattias Ekström and Claudia Hürtgen – Abt Sportline Cupra XE Team
  • Carlos Sainz and Laia Sanz – Acciona Sainz XE Team
  • Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings – Andretti United XE Team
  • Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price – Chip Ganassi Racing 
  • Oliver Bennett and Christine Giampaoli – Hispano Suiza Xite Energy Team
  • Jenson Button (female co-driver has not been announced yet) – JBXE Team
  • Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor – Rosberg Xtreme Racing 
  • Stéphane Sarrazin and Jamie Chadwick – Veloce Racing
  • Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gutiérrez – Team X44

Christine GZ will be racing for Hispano Suiza Xite Energy Team, with Oliver Bennett sharing the co-driver workload. Bennett is a British rally driver with a resume that includes FIA World Rallycross Championship and Gymkhana GRID events. Christine GZ’s most recent demonstration that has earned her a spot in Extreme E was reaching third place at the Andalucía Road to Dakar Rally last fall in a T2 Land Cruiser for Avatel Racing Team.  

Photo courtesy of Christine GZ

We reached out to Christine GZ to gain perspective on the anticipation of taking part in such an event with a new race car and signing with a new team. Hispano Suiza Xite Energy Team collaborates between Hispano Suiza, a Spanish automotive company founded in 1904, and Xite Energy – a naturally caffeinated energy drink company. 

When asked what it meant to have this team on her racing suit and car livery Christine said, “I am very excited to be part of the Hispano Suiza Xite Energy team. It’s a chance to represent Spain, the land I’ve called home for many years and to do it in an all new motorsport makes the opportunity even more meaningful to me.”

“I see Extreme-E racing as traditional motorsport taking the next step in its evolution. “

We also asked Christine for her thoughts on Extreme E and its principles. “I see Extreme-E racing as traditional motorsport taking the next step in its evolution. Having the chance to spread awareness of climate change with high-performance electric vehicles is a great combination of excitement and reasonability that I think the world will respond positively to,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Christine GZ

She also feels that having mixed teams will help to showcase the strong female presence in male-dominated motorsport. Extreme E is not a battle of the sexes, however. It’s promoting gender equity in a way that’s never been done in motorsport.  

The Odyssey-21 Electric SUV Off-Road Racecar 

Each race team in Extreme E will be driving the Odyssey-21, an electric SUV designed and built by Spark Racing Technology. The Odyssey-21 made its world debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2019. Purpose-built to be a competitive off-road racer, the Odyssey-21 features a 400 kW battery pack developed by Williams Advanced Engineering, producing 550 horsepower. This electric SUV can reach zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds and tackle gradients as steep as 130 degrees. 

The truck tips the scales at 3,640 lbs, a feather-weight compared to other electric SUVs like a Tesla Model X, which can weigh as much as 5,640 lbs – one ton more than the Odyssey-21. To save weight, Spark fitted these electric SUV racers with a niobium-reinforced steel alloy tubular frame by CBMM. Niobium is a chemical element with a similar hardness rating to pure titanium. Additional equipment includes a crash structure with roll-cage for safety and uses Continental Tires. 

The Odyssey-21 first time out in the real world of motorsport was at the 2020 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia. Sitting behind the wheel on this maiden voyage was the godfather of hooning Ken Block. During the Dakar rally’s final competitive stage, the e-SUV performed well by achieving the third-fastest time in one of the most punishing off-road racing events in the world. It proved that the Spark Odyssey-21 is a contender capable of handling brutal terrain and surviving. 

St. Helen, the Mothership 

One of the most attention-grabbing details, surrounding Extreme E is how it plans to transport the entire championship to each of the five planned locations. The hub, nerve center, floating padlock, or as we refer to it – the mothership, is a former British Royal Mail Service passenger and cargo ship named St. Helena. Its job will be to carry the championship’s infrastructure, vehicles, and on-board laboratory to each race destination. 

This giant cargo ship now has an ECO-mode allowing it to run using only one engine at a cruising speed to increase fuel economy.

St. Helena is a ship with 30 years of history with service as a supply ship from 1990 to 2016. Reportedly it is one of the last two ships to carry the RMS name. The idea of using a cargo ship was to minimize Electric E’s emissions profile, given the environmentally-conscious message it is trying to convey. That meant resto-modding this old sea-workhorse to be as energy-efficient as possible. 

St. Helena’s engines and generators were rebuilt and modified to run on low-sulfur marine diesel fuel. This giant cargo ship now has an ECO-mode allowing it to run using only one engine at a cruising speed to increase fuel economy. Much ship’s ship’s hardware and interior were kept original but refurbished. St. Helena is currently docked in Liverpool, UK, and will set sail on its Extreme E maiden voyage to Saudi Arabia in March. 

Where to Watch Extreme E Racing 

Extreme E will be aired globally, with more than 40 international broadcasters scheduled to air this championship series. Some of these broadcasters include Fox Sports, ESPN, BBC, Sky Sports, Virgin Media, and Eurosport. Extreme E’s website has a full list of counties with the broadcasting networks scheduled to air the electric off-road racing series. Check it out to mark your calendars and set your DVR. 

Extreme E Season 1 Race Schedule 

Season one of Extreme E officially kicks off in Saudi Arabia on April 3-4, 2021. From then on, the next four races are as follows: 

  • Senegal (May 29-30)
  • Greenland (August 28-29)
  • Brazil (October 23-24)
  • Patagonia (December 11-12)

How Extreme E Racing Works 

Each location will host a weekend of racing consisting of four rounds with seven races total. The racers are divided into two groups to compete in two qualifying rounds, and each round consists of two races. Points are awarded based on position. The highest-scoring teams move on to the first semi-final round, and the second half competes in the second semi-final round – referred to as the “crazy race.” The top three scoring teams from both semi-finals then proceed to the final race. 

Each race consists of two laps on a set course. After the first lap, co-drivers are required to switch positions. This keeps the racing competitive as drivers need to learn to navigate as co-drivers and vice versa – everyone performs the same jobs. No other motorsport does this, and it ensures the racing will be kept on an even playing field, thus forcing teams to work in sync to gain an edge over the competition. 

Different Energy, Same Action

As we ease into the 2020s, more and more auto manufacturers are declaring an end to gasoline production vehicles in favor of producing only electric cars. Whether or not electric cars are the environmental solution we’ve been looking for is subjective, but there is no denying that electric cars are trending right now. Extreme E is making a case to prove you don’t have to burn gas to go fast over mountains, across deserts, or through the snow. 

Extreme E is making a case to prove you don’t have to burn gas to go fast over mountains, across deserts, or through the snow. 

In a recent article, Extreme E CEO and founder Alejandro Agag expressed his ecstatic anticipation as we near the first race weekend, “I’m delighted and proud we have got to this point despite everything that has gone on in the last year. Our adventure now truly begins, with the St. Helena departing on her voyage in a matter of days. This is the culmination of a number of years of hard work, and I can’t wait to see all the cars, drivers and scientists at our first event in Saudi Arabia.”  

Extreme E has the message, the drivers, the cars, and the locations to host a truly unique off-road racing experience. Now we have to wait and see how it turns out. IMBOLDN would like to wish Christine GZ safe travels and good racing as she races around the world with Extreme E, and thank her for taking the time to talk to us about this unique championship series. Look for Extreme E on social media for updates and race details to follow the series’ inaugural season.